Ready for some family-friendly scares?
When you think about where to head for Halloween favorites, Disney+ probably doesn’t immediately spring to mind. But just because Disney+ is free from blood-and-gore extravaganzas doesn’t mean it can’t scratch your spooky itch. In fact, far from it! There is a pretty robust amount of Halloween (and Halloween-adjacent) fair on Disney’s direct-to-consumer platform, including a bunch of new stuff that was recently added and so many classics, for every age group. Here are our choices for the very best Halloween movies and shows on Disney+.
Unlike other Disney remakes, which start out in animation before transitioning to live-action, Tim Burton decided to remake his oddball live-action short film (one of his “after school projects” that kept him busy while animating for Disney) in the form of a feature-length stop-motion animated film. Talk about a curveball! One of his most emotionally resonant and overlooked films, the voice cast includes Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau and Winona Ryder in the tale of a young boy named Victor (Charlie Tahan), who loses his dog Sparky and decides to bring him back – through science! John August’s script repeats familiar beats from the original (which you can also watch on Disney+) but deviates in some key aspects, most notably a superb final act that sees the other kids in Victor’s class resurrect their beloved pets, resulting in some truly wonderful, “Gremlins”-style monster mayhem. Serves as a perfect companion to Burton’s other spooky stop-motion holiday classic…
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
You really should only care about the second half of this postwar package film (unless you’re a big Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride fan and want to see what that Disneyland attraction is based on), an adaptation of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” This wonderful film — narrated, sung and mostly voiced by Bing Crosby — tells the story of hapless New England schoolteacher Ichabod Crane and his encounter with the dastardly Headless Horseman. Luxuriously animated and legitimately spooky, the Disney version stays pretty close to the original story and is still the definitive filmed adaptation. (You can see it in Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow,” which borrows considerably.) This might be short but it is essential.
The Simpsons (“Treehouse of Horror,” Season 2 – 32)
Is it even Halloween without a viewing of at least one of the annual “Simpsons” “Treehouse of Horror” episodes? Didn’t think so. From early classics like Season 5’s installment, which included the “Devil and Homer Simpson” episode that revealed Ned Flanders as the Prince of Darkness, and an iconic riff on “Bram Stoker’s Dracula;” to Season 31’s playful “Stranger Things” spoof – they’re all available on Disney+. (They are even collected in the app’s Halloween section.) Just remember to watch those earlier episodes in their original 4:3 aspect ratio. Losing jokes because the image has been reframed? Now that is scary.
Toy Story of Terror (2013)
During the in-between years that followed “Toy Story 3,” there were a number of “Toy Story” shorts and a pair of exemplary holiday specials, the first of which was the Halloween-themed “Toy Story of Terror.” After Bonnie’s mom gets a flat tire, she and the toys are forced to spend the night in a creepy roadside motel where they start going missing, one by one… Written and directed by Angus MacLane, a Pixar stalwart since “A Bug’s Life,” who is directing next summer’s big screen “Toy Story” adventure “Lightyear,” “Toy Story of Terror” is extremely clever, even if its big reveal feels perhaps a little too similar to “Toy Story 2.” Still, it added a lot to the “Toy Story” universe, most crucially Carl Weathers as Combat Carl. And it serves as a perfect showcase for Jessie (Joan Cusack), who here is given a “Vertigo”-like fear of enclosed spaces, especially since she was so marginalized in the otherwise excellent “Toy Story 4.”
“One Hundred and One Dalmatians’” iconic baddie finally got her own origin story in “Cruella,” and it wound up being the best of the recent crop of live-action adaptations of Disney classics. Emma Stone is perfect as the titular, dog-chasing fiend, who in this story is a far more sympathetic character – a Dickensian orphan who dreams of becoming a fashion designer and who, along the way, becomes a master criminal, pop culture provocateur and, ultimately, a very bad lady. (Emma Thompson chews the scenery with even more gleeful abandon as the Baroness, who is somehow more evil than Cruella.) Instead of being slavishly faithful to the original material, director Craig Gillespie and his screenwriters (including “The Favourite’s” Tony McNamara) give “Cruella” permission to play. Set in a grungy cool post-new wave, pre-punk London, the soundtrack is full of needle drops and it is so full of life and wickedness. What a blast. And you can finally watch “Cruella” on Disney+ as part of your subscription! Right now! Go!
Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021)
After countless Christmas specials, the Muppets finally get to do Halloween. And not just Halloween, they get to enter the home to 999 happy haunts, Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Using the screen-based technology popularized by “The Mandalorian,” “Muppets Haunted Mansion” puts Gonzo (Dave Goelz) and Pepe (Bill Barretta) right into the middle of a swinging wake. Ingeniously, the special casts all of your favorite Muppets as the Mansion’s many memorable ghosts (Fozzie is the Hatbox Ghost, etc.). Along for the ride are a small army of celebrities, most of them doing blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos (including one of the last onscreen appearances from Ed Asner), with Will Arnett in the more sizable role as the “Ghost Host,” the heretofore unseen narration of the original attraction. Co-written and directed by Henson mainstay Kirk Thatcher, there is a clear love and appreciation for both the Muppet characters (Brian Henson even returns to perform an obscure character from “Muppets Tonight”) and the original Disneyland attraction. But it’s not an obnoxious Easter egg hunt; there’s trademark Muppets warmth and humor here, and a couple of catchy songs. The Muppets and Haunted Mansion – two great tastes that taste great together.
The Scariest Story Ever: A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular (2017)
There have been some great, occasionally quite spooky installments of the recent Paul Rudish run of Mickey Mouse shorts (may we also humbly suggest “Ghoul Friend,” directed by the great Aaron Springer), but if you’re looking for an extended blast of Halloween goodness, look no further than this awesome, half-hour-long special. In the special, Mickey (Chris Diamantopoulos) tells scary stories to Donald, Goofy, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Morty and Ferdie Fieldmouse based on “Frankenstein,” “Dracula” and “Hansel and Gretel.” Each section is told with the new shorts’ typical flair for aesthetic outrageousness and in-your-face humor (plus tons of inside jokes and callbacks to earlier Mickey shorts and other aspects of the company’s history). The special, which originally debuted on home video before airing on the Disney Channel, is new to Disney+, so chances are you might have skipped over it or never seen it at all.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Is it even Halloween if you don’t watch “Hocus Pocus” at least once? The ultimate Disney Halloween movie, “Hocus Pocus” was quietly released into theaters in later summer 1993 (because of course it was) and failed to make much of an impression. But through the years it has gained in estimation, to the point that the Sanderson Sisters (played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy in the film) now host the annual Halloween festivities in Walt Disney World, and a long-awaited sequel (with all three actresses returning) is scheduled to hit Disney+ next Halloween. Part of what makes “Hocus Pocus” so fun isn’t just the three wonderful actresses vamping it up as witches who awake in modern day Salem, but that the movie is actually set at Halloween (who doesn’t love Gary Marshall dressed as Satan?) Also, it’s just so fun and it still feels, all these years later, a little bit dangerous, with the talk of child murder and (gasp!) a character’s virginity, especially given the highly sanitized Disney of 2021. Handsomely made and highly rewatchable (they’re running it on Freeform endlessly), “Hocus Pocus” deserves its status as Halloween cult classic.
The Ghost and Molly McGee (2021)
Disney’s latest animated series is also perfect Halloweentime viewing. “The Ghost and Molly McGee,” which follows the exploits of a ghost named Scratch (Dana Snyder) who haunts Molly McGee (Ashly Burch), who is a little too into her new supernatural sidekick. The animation, by Mercury Filmworks (the same studio that does the animation for the Mickey Mouse shorts), is genuinely jaw-dropping and the voicework and songs (by Rob Cantor) are a total hoot. Also in what other kids’ animated series is Greta Gerwig showing up (and playing herself)? Exactly. Also, consider these other Disney animated original series to supplement your spooky time viewing: the beloved “Gravity Falls” and the more recent and also sadly short-lived “The Owl House.”
Mr. Boogedy (1986) / Bride of Boogedy (1987)
There are a ton of made-for-TV Halloween movies on Disney+, most of them Disney Channel Original Movies (or DCOMs). A remake of 1997 favorite “Under Wraps” just debuted on Disney Channel and Disney+. So consider this entry a stand-in for every DCOM on Disney+ that you have ever loved and might still love (including but not limited to: “Halloweentown,” “Zombies” and “Phantom of the Megaplex”). But we wanted to single out a couple of oddball choices, as a Halloween treat. Initially developed as a pilot for a potential TV series, “Mr. Boogedy” instead aired as a Disney Sunday Movie on ABC. “A family comedy about ghosts, evil spirits and a very haunted house,” is how Disney chairman Michael Eisner described it on its televised intro. And it’s true. A family led by the great Richard Masur and featuring a very young and petulant Kristy Swanson moves into a very haunted house occupied by various ghouls, including the titular Mr. Boogedy, who is sort of a kid-friendly Freddy Krueger (instead of killing children in their dreams, he shoots animated lightning bolts out of his hands) and, perhaps most memorably, a dancing mummy (it was used in the intro to the Disney Sunday Movie). While the TV show never happened, “Mr. Boogedy” did get a sequel the following year called “Bride of Boogedy.” There were more supernatural hijinks, and while it did lose Swanson (she was replaced by Tammy Lauren), it did gain an appearance by Eugene Levy, which is a net win. If you’ve never seen these somewhat hidden gems, give them a whirl (and look up the Eisner-led intro on YouTube after the fact).
Return to Oz (1985)
While not explicitly Halloween-themed, “Return to Oz” is easily the most terrifying thing on Disney+ — a runaway train full of eerie imagery, nightmarish scenarios and hellish character designs. Truly, there is nothing as traumatizing as “Return to Oz.” Disney’s obsession with Oz dates to when Walt, in a move seen as either opportunistic or incredibly vindictive, gained the rights to all of the other Frank L. Baum Oz books. But the company didn’t mount a feature until nearly 20 years after Walt’s death, under the direction of celebrated editor Walter Murch (who also co-wrote the screenplay, based on “The Marvelous Land of Oz” and “Ozma of Oz”). Clearly, we are not in Kansas anymore. Dorothy (a young Fairuza Balk) fantasizes about Oz thanks to a series of electroshock therapies (yes, really) and instead of cuddly, stuffed-animal-like characters, her sidekicks are a pumpkin-headed freak named Jack, a weird, pre-steampunk mechanical man named Tik-Tok and some kind of moose-headed sleigh creature (seriously could not tell you). Disney had high hopes for the movie – work was done on an Oz-themed land for the theme parks and characters appeared in the parks’ daily parades – but nobody was into this ghoulish conception of Oz (other things that still haunt us: the witch’s gallery of faces and the “Wheelers,” a band of roving roller-skating creeps) and the process of making the movie was so awful that Murch never directed another movie again. A horror show all around!
When “Coco” was being released, they explicitly distanced the movie from Halloween, noting (rightfully) that the film is a celebration of the Mexican holiday of Dia de Lls Muertos (Day of the Dead). But in the years since its release, it has inched ever closer to the company-wide Halloween festivities, while still retaining its cultural specificity and identity. And, really, do you need another excuse to watch Lee Unkrich’s magical, Oscar-winning animated feature? It has everything you could need from Halloween: characters in disguise, fantastical creatures and more skeletons than you could count (singing skeletons, dancing skeletons, DJing skeletons). But it is also centered around the tenets of the Day of the Dead in a way that could be illuminating to those that didn’t grow up in (or adjacent to) the culture – that it is a day of remembrance, when loved ones return from the great beyond not in a scary way but in a way that makes your heart soar. Wrapped inside its “Back to the Future”-ish plot about a living boy who is threatened with premature entrance into the Land of the Dead, are themes that resonate loudly inside all of us. And the ending might be the most tear-jerking moment in the history of Pixar, a company known for almost exclusively manufacturing tear-jerking moments.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Yes, the debate rages on, just like the argument about whether or not “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie. And just like the “Die Hard” debate, the “Nightmare Before Christmas” discussion is just as exhausting. Of course it is a Halloween movie and a Christmas movie. It has a song called “This Is Halloween” and a song called “Making Christmas.” The “Nightmare Before Christmas” overlay comes to Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland before Halloween, but it stays up until after Christmas. And the movie itself, produced by Tim Burton and directed by Henry Selick, lovingly embraces both holidays in form and function – it’s brought to life using stop-motion animation like the great Rankin/Bass Christmas specials … but they did do a weird, feature-length Halloween movie called “Mad Monster Party.” And in the design and storytelling, the emphasis on Halloween and Christmas feels equal. So, please, enjoy “Nightmare Before Christmas,” no matter what holiday we’re in closer proximity to.
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